The International Literacy Day

Literacy refers to the ability of people to read and write. Even though the literacy rate of many developed countries like the United Kingdom and the United States of America is at 99%, there are many less developed countries with a Literacy Rate of less than 50%. A Literacy Rate at about 80% means that the country has at least a small population who cannot read or write; whereas for countries with less than 50% of Literacy Rate means that a large proportion of the country’s population is unable to read or write. This is a main problem for many countries as most of those who cannot read or write are children; thus indicating that the standard of education as well as the standard of living in those countries are not very high. Lacking the basic amenities of reading and writing is a major problem as it does not allow you to do anything in future, such as an education course you hope to do. Some people even think that people who cannot read or write have a problem in their brain development centre. This is also believed to be caused by family inheritance and environmental factors. However, anyone’s lack in literacy skills cannot be due to any of these reasons.

Underprivileged children in African countries like Namibia do not have access to facilities which are needed to improve their reading and writing skills. Such people find themselves rejected by the society, not only in Africa but in all countries; thus ending up homeless.

The International Literacy Day was established by UNESCO on the 26th of October, 1966 in an attempt to bring awareness, not only to the high level of illiteracy worldwide, but also to the importance of literacy for an individual and the community. Every year, the United Nations chooses a specific theme to address various obstacles which hinder literacy and quality education. The 8th of September was announced as “The International Literacy Day” by UNESCO in 1966 at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference. It was celebrated for the very first time in 1967. The International Literacy Day has also succeeded in raising awareness about the power of women’s literacy as women are often insulted in some societies and countries for being illiterate.

The Director General of Independence Literacy Day, Audrey Azoulay, once made a very meaningful message on this very special occasion: “Embracing linguistic diversity in education and literacy development is therefore a key part of developing inclusive societies that respect “diversity” and “difference”, upholding human dignity”. Foundations like the World Literacy Foundation have begun to help unfortunate children who live in remote areas since they do not have access to education. Many learning apps have been developed in order to help children read and write. Another foundation called the “International Literacy Association” is a global advocacy and a professional organization which conducts research and practice in order to continuously improve the quality of literacy instruction globally. Their mission includes: translating practical resources for all educators, setting standards for literacy professions and programs to educate teachers, high levels of appreciation via awards and grants for the best educators, advocating for funding and other policies that support literacy needs for school systems, students and teachers all around the globe, and the provision of learning experiences and professional development through hosting digital events such as on-demand webinars and on-demand sessions that include Multilingualism with Translanguaging Strategies.

However, recently, there has been a challenge to the progress of these organizations, the COVID-19 Pandemic. This crisis has disrupted the learning of children and adults at an unprecedented scale. This has suspended the school activities for both children and teachers; children are now left with nothing to do most of the time as a result of lockdown and temporary curfews. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionately affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults. Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programmes have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation. Even at such haunting times, alternative methods such as the distance learning plan have been brought up but unfortunately, it hasn’t been evenly distributed due to lack of facilities in some regions with limited learning options. The United Nations is using this as an opportunity to remind us of the importance of literacy and the need to help those who are not as fortunate.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. The International Literacy Day (ILD) of 2021 will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on literacy and digital skills required by illiterate youth and adults. It also explores how meaningful and inclusive digital literacy (technology-enabled literacy) is invaluable when it comes to managing the problem of illiteracy. By doing so, ILD 2021 will be an opportunity to reimagine future literacy teaching and learning, within and beyond the context of the pandemic, as per one of the goals of the ILD.

- Akindu Pathirage